From NASA’s website about the video: For the first time ever, NASA’s two highly modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft briefly flew in formation over the Edwards Air Force Base test range Aug. 2. Both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air on the same day, NASA 911 (foreground) on a flight crew proficiency flight, NASA 905 (rear) on a functional check flight following maintenance operations. Since both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air at the same time, SCA pilot Jeff Moultrie of Johnson Space Center’s Aircraft Operations Directorate took the opportunity to have both SCA’s fly in formation for about 20 minutes while NASA photographer Carla Thomas captured still and video imagery from a NASA Dryden F/A-18.

There are only two specially modified Boeing 747-100s that were used to transport the Space Shuttle from their landing location back to the Kennedy Space Center. The first 747-100 (N905NA) was originally built for American Airlines and acquired in 1974. The aircraft wore American’s livery (minus titles) until it was repainted in 1983 with a NASA livery. In 1988, NASA purchased a second 747-100, this time an SR model, from Japan Airlines (JAL – N911NA). The second started operations with NASA in 1991.

So what will happen to the 747s now? Most likely they are going to be retired or end up as a show piece in a museum. Zach Rosenberg, with Flight Global, pointed out via email that, “Boeing recently borrowed one to fly their Phantom Ray from St. Louis to Edwards AFB.” However, Rosenberg does not feel that NASA has enough projects to keep either of the aircraft.

If you know anyone looking for a Boeing 747-100 with low hours and a unique look, I am guessing NASA might have a deal for you.

Thanks @jetcitystar for pointing this out.

Other Goodies:
* The inside of N905NA still has seats and spiral staircase in the front
* 117 photos of N905NA on
* 40 photos of N911NA on
* Photo of the two 747s in the air together from NASA

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
RwandAir 737 Delivery Part 3: Landing in Kigali, Rwanda

That’s awesome. As the F-18 pilot said at the end, “that’s a lot of airplane for one piece of sky!”

I don’t know when the NASA 911 was scrapped, but I have the spiral staircase from the plane now mounted to the side of my house providing access to the roof. Too cool.


Well slap me silly! Until today, I did not realize that there were TWO shu ttle carriers. No wonder the Shuttle program was so expensive! As for their future use, they’ve already gothe space for mucho extra monitoring gear and the basic (Pax configuration) weights have been stipped to nothing. Despite their older wing structures, both are (guessing here) very low hour and cycle airplanes. I suspect that both will soon find new homes as engine test beds or in other engineering rolls. They may not be fuel-efficient by today’s standards, but with light loads of test gear and developmental engines, these low hour/cycle airframes have a lot more to offer. That their flight decks still require a 3-person crew is just not significant when looking at their overall operating efficiency. The airplanes won’t cost much and the necessary modifications won’t be awful. For one (or or two) of the firms that need to test engines or other components at speed and altitude, there are few other choices. Fact is, that a 747-100 with a relatively light load (think test gear, etc.) can take off and fly to altitude on three standarad engines – and without blinking a navigation light. Duh??? Perhaps that’s why several other 747 airframes are already serving in this roll. Duh again! When an engine firm is doing final, in-flight tests of a new or modified engine, there is simply no substitute fpr a fat airplane tat will accommodate the experimental engine, all of the necessary test gear – and fly just fine on three of its native four engines. I don’t know the exact numbers, but heck yes; the 747-100 with a moderate load can *easily* take off and climb with only three of her native engines burning. If t here is a better, safer airborn testbed for new engines, I cannot imagine what it might be. These two low hour and low cycle airframes are not yet ready for the scrap heap. Despite their steam guages and the need for a third crew member, t hese airplanes have a lot of life left in them. Is their a genuine shortage of Flight Engineers, qualified to fly the the third seat on a 747-100 or 747-200? Hardly, especially when all flights would be outside the age constraints of Part 121 flying. Staffing these ancient airplanes with well-qualified crews is not an issue. Maintenence costs may be, but as research aircraft, the future operators are wll prepared to foot the bills. I don’t believe that these two wonderbirds are headed to the scrap yard any time soon. (Heck… If t he net cost drops below $100k (not in my lifetime) I’d consider buying one. The actual operating cost cannot be more than $7k -$8k per hour! What a bargain!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *